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Sunday, August 16, 2009

NYC Half Marathon 2009

It was still dark when I got up at 3:45am knowing I had to meet Catherine and Lisa at their hotel by 5:30am. I wanted to be sure I either found a taxi or caught a subway in time even though at that hour I figured there would be less traffic than normal. Somehow I made it out the door by 4:35, got to the main avenue and caught a taxi right away and was at their hotel by 4:50 am! Better early than late! I ran into two guys, must have been in their early or mid twenties, who had just gotten in from a long night of partying! They saw my equipment and asked what I was doing so I told them that I was there to film a runner for the half marathon. They had no clue there was a race about to take place but they were intrigued. They asked me if the runner was "any good". I had to supress a chuckle and told them a little about Catherine. They wanted to stay to see her but it was really early and she wasn't due downstairs until 5:30 and they decided it was time to get to their room before they passed out. It was an amusing start to the day!

Around 5:25 I went to Catherine's room and she was just about ready to meet her fellow athletes in the lobby to catch the bus to the offices of the New York Road Runners (NYRR). I followed Catherine, Lisa and Hosea to the bus and we were taken to NYRR along with the other elite runners. It was here that the athletes picked up their race bags where they would put the items in that they wanted at the finish line. They also put their numbers on their bibs and made sure their trackers were on their shoes. Once that was taken care of many of the runners warmed up by jogging laps around the block until it was time to go to the start.

The start of the race was at Central Park East Drive at 87th street and there was a sea of people milling around, looking for where to drop their bags, where to line up, saying goodbye to loved ones and stretching, drinking and chatting. It was so full of energy and at such an early hour! It wasn't even 7am! I missed following the elite athletes to the start so Lisa and I ended up running through thousands of people to get to where they were. There were "corrals" set up and where we came in was at the very back. We ran through all of the different corrals and it was probably close to a half mile into the course that we found the actual starting line!

Finally it was time for some ceremony and Mary Wittenberg got up on a podium and introduced the three headline female athletes: Catherine, Paula Radcliffe and Deena Kastor. They each spoke to the crowd and acknowledged how good it was to be there. Then they all lined up. It was awesome to see the three of them standing there waiting to hear the gun. Then they heard it and off they went. I stayed for a minute until they were out of sight and then had to race to get on the bus so we could get to the finish in time, before the atheltes!

We had a police escort to make sure we made it but it was the slowest ride you can imagine! Jane Monti, who is one of the key people involved in organizing for NYRR, finally had to get out of the bus at a red light and ask the officer in the lead car if he could speed it up a bit! He did and we got there in time. I set up at the finish line and waited. We did not have a live feed to see the race so had to rely on some updates that came over a speaker now and then. I have to say it is quite exciting standing there waiting for the runners to cross that finish line. The men first; Ethiopian Tadese Tola defended his title and the other men started to come in after him: Morocco's Ridouane Harroufi second and American Ryan Hall third. (I briefly interviewed Ryan and he is such a nice guy; I'm glad he did well!)

Finally the first woman could be seen in the distance and it was Paula Radcliffe. She was running to see if she was fit enough to run at the World Championships in Berlin next week! She won the race (1:09:50) by a good margin. Then came Mamitu Daska (ETH) in 1:11:04 and then I saw Catherine coming down the stretch. She placed third (1:11:56). As each of the top three men and women came in, they were draped in their country's flag and then took a victory lap back down the last leg of the course where they hi-fived fans and you could hear the cheers from afar.

Of course after the race many people would ask Catherine if she was disappointed in placing third and as always, her answer was no. She was quick to congratulate the other women ahead of her and happy to have accomplished what she did!

As Catherine was cooling down, a young American girl walked up to her and they exchanged congratulations. I was immediately struck by the way she looked up to Catherine; you could see the admiration in her eyes. I knew I had to speak to her. I learned her name is Ilsa Paulson and she is a very young but up and coming athlete who has been very inspired by Catherine. I spoke with her and also with her parents and her parents told me how Ilsa meeting Catherine last year has been so instrumental in her own development as not only an athlete but as a person. It turns out that Ilsa is very religious and felt a calling from God to pursue her running so she dropped out of college and moved to NY to train full time and run. Her parents are extremely supportive of her but Ilsa has found that some of the other athletes are not as supportive. Some feel she should have stayed in school and done the college track and field route and some do not approve of her devotion to her religion. But meeting Catherine inspired her to stay true to her own beliefs and live her life in what ever way is right for her. It was truly awesome to hear how much this young girl has been inspired by Catherine. She considers Catherine her role model in so many ways and I am so fortunate to have met Ilsa for both the benefit of the film as well as myself. This young girl was the first American woman to cross the finish line, placing 6th just ahead of Deena Kastor who placed 7th!

Finally it was time for the awards and people were lining the park near the finish area. There was music and people dancing in the grass and it was a very festive time! The weather was a bit hot and humid but there was no rain so it was great! Awards were given to the top ten men and top ten women.
Young children from a local running club presented the top 3 prizes; 3 boys to the men and 3 girls to the women. They were adorable. Some of the winners threw their flowers to the crowd but Catherine did not. She followed the little girl that presented her with her award and handed the flowers to her. The look on the little girl's face was priceless. Catherine spoke to her and asked her to promise to work hard in her training and do well in school.

After the ceremonies were finished, the athletes hopped on the bus and went back to their hotel. Catherine did her usual soak in the tub and packed up to go but when she went to the athletes lounge she got a little sidetracked. Ryan Hall was sitting on the sofa with some very strange "pants" on! It turns out that the race doctor had these pants that look almost like a cross between a space suit and hockey goalie pads and they are attached to a hose and a pressure system. The pants contract and expand and massage the legs. Catherine wanted to try it so she hung around and waited for Ryan's session to end. Watching Catherine get into this pant-like contraption was hysterical. They looked like they would swallow her up but, once it started working she really liked it!

Finally it was time to go, but before heading back to Philadelphia, Catherine and Hosea wanted to stop for lunch at their favorite Italian Restaurant. After lunch, it was time to get to the train. Catherine stopped a few times along the street to look at handbags because it just isn't right not to stop and look! She absolutely loves to shop!

The train ride home was crowded so we each sat separately but we were all exhausted and glad to have some quiet time. As I left Lisa, Catherine and Hosea I knew I could look forward to next month when Catherine would once again run the Philadelphia Distance Run. I'm still feeling inspired from meeting Ilsa and her parents and knowing how much she has been inspired by Catherine!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New York, New York

I've been debating whether or not to come up to New York for the NYC Half Marathon for a few weeks now. Last year I came up with a crew and we filmed Catherine shopping at Niketown, one of her favorite activities :) I also filmed her at a Q&A/Autograph session but I was not here for the actual race. So I really wanted to be here but I was torn between obligations at home and this. With both of my sons leaving for college in a week, there is much to be done to get them ready. To top that off, the younger of the two had his wisdom teeth out yesterday at 3pm. He was feeling REALLY good immediately after it was over, but once the novocaine and anesthesia wore off, he reassessed and was definitely NOT feeling very well at all. I won't go into the details but let's just say that he was quite under the weather. A few weeks before, he was urging me to go to NY and do what has to be done, assuring me he would be fine to take care of himself after the "minor" procedure of having all four wisdom teeth out. I finally agreed and scheduled the trip. I was very excited knowing that the field for this half marathon was excellent to begin with, and at the last minute Paula Radcliffe announced her entry as well. But after seeing my son around eleven last night, I was not so sure he would be ok. After a bout of hugging the toilet bowl, he began to feel better around midnight and I knew my trip was still going to happen. After all, he could always call his father, my friends, his grandmother or if need be, I would only be 90 minutes away. So after finally getting to bed at 2am, 5am came all too quickly! (should I have gone to sleep at all?)

Well, I got packed and ready to go and headed out to the train. Fortunately, traffic was good to me and I caught the intended train and off I went! I arrived in NYC around 9:20 am and hopped a subway to the Warwick hotel where Catherine, Lisa and Hosea Rotich were staying (as well as the other elite athletes). I ran into Catherine just as I arrived and she was headed out for a nice pre-race massage. I hung out with Lisa for a bit and we stopped into the hospitality lounge to say hi to some of the NYRR organizers and then I headed down to pick up my credentials for the press conference. Originally, the women’s elite runner press conference was scheduled for Thursday August 13th, but since Lornah Kiplagat had to withdraw they moved it to Friday along with Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall who were originally scheduled to have a separate press conference on Friday anyway.

It was a small group of reporters and the elite runners in an informal, round table format. There were three tables; one athlete at each table; Catherine Ndereba, Hendrick Ramaala (South Africa) and Tadese Tola (Ethiopia). Later, Deena Kastor (USA), Ryan Hall (USA) and Paula Radcliffe (UK) joined as well. It seemed a lot of the reporters were interested in asking Catherine (as well as the other athletes), what they thought of Paula running the NYC Half Marathon this week and then potentially the marathon next week at the World Championships in Berlin. They also seemed very interested to know how Catherine felt about the fact that Paula was running. As usual, Catherine graciously stated that it doesn't matter to her; the better the field the happier she is to be among good competition and that it would not change the way she races at all. She runs her own race no matter who is in the field.

What I found most interesting was what happened after the press conference was officially over and the athletes left the room and went about their business. I was having my lunch at a table with some journalists and I overhead a discussion between two journalists about Catherine's career and her consistency and how there isn't anyone else out there right now that has the consistency to sustain a career over such a long period of time the way Catherine has. I wanted so much to grab my camera and ask "uh, excuse me, could you repeat what you just said and oh, can you look into the camera as you do?" I refrained but it was interesting to listen to them discuss all of the current women on the racing circuit and agree that Catherine’s ability to maintain such a high level of competitiveness over such a period of time in this sport is highly unusual.

After the press conference, I met up again with Lisa and Catherine and Catherine relaxed for a bit and spoke on the phone with her husband, Anthony. They were not speaking English but the conversation was very jovial and filled with a lot of laughing and smiling. Soon it was time to head over to the Hilton where Catherine sat for an interview for a local television station. While there, we met Liz Robbins, author of the book A Race Like No Other which is about the NYC Marathon. She was very nice and seems to be a big fan of Catherine’s.

Once the interview was finished, we headed back to the Warwick again and just chatted until it was time for Catherine to go to her technical meeting. It was at that point that I decided to bid them farewell for the day. I filmed her at a technical meeting last year and from there they would go to a dinner which I know they would not spend much time at because Catherine was itching to get to Niketown! I didn’t mind getting back to where I was staying (my younger sister’s place) early; it was a very long day on only 3 hours sleep! I found an excellent sushi bar and grabbed dinner and called it a day. It looks like the weather all weekend will be nice but by Sunday it will be much hotter and more humid so it’s a good thing the race is early!

Deena Kastor

L to R: Deena Kastor, Catherine Ndereba, Paula Radcliffe

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Training Continues

Today I caught up with Catherine at Costco where she was with Lisa and the 8 other Kenyan athletes on their weekly shopping expedition. The usual Wednesday routine is to hit Costco on the way back from their chiropractic adjustments with Johnny King-Marino at Advanced Health and Performance Center. The car was quite full today because Samuel Ndereba and Hosea Rotich both arrived from Kenya yesterday much to the delight of Linus who was the ONLY male in the camp for the past several weeks with the 6 women: Catherine, Jane, Caroline, Irene, Nerri and Kellen. Pretty soon Lisa is going to need a bus; the 3-row car is getting really crowded! Everyone seemed very tired and anxious to get back home to get ready for their afternoon training runs.

Catherine returned late Monday from her race in Bogota where she placed 5th with a time of 1:16:07. Bogota is a very tough race because of the high altitude and she ran at a comfortable pace. She is looking forward to her next race in NYC at the Half Marathon. Unfortunately, it was announced late yesterday that Lornah Kiplagat had to pull out of the race due to an ongoing knee problem. When I interviewed her in Kenya she was still rehabilitating the knee from an injury in March. She was hoping to be back in competition soon but evidently she isn't ready. It is a shame since it would have been only the fourth time that she, Deena Kastor and Catherine would be in the same event.